Where We’ve Been

It’s been a busy month or so. September – a friend’s 50th birthday celebration, a living history event with Frida Kahlo, two wine festivals we planned but bagged out on, and dinner with Todd’s parents.

We, on behalf of the college, attended a fundraiser for families of children who passed suddenly. The mother of a 19-year-old boy who was killed in a car accident on his way to work spoke first and I sat there trembling with tears. A fellow dean and friend also attended and he, like a true Gemini, tried to lure me onto the dancefloor for one of the newer line dances I don’t know and I – unlike a true Gemini – refused on merit of self-preservation. I did, however, buy $40 worth of auction tickets and Todd and I deposited them in various bags and won – NOTHING. Typical.

Opac came home for fall break – Todd picked him up and he was already gone by the time I’d gotten home from work. He couldn’t wait to drive the Mustang again. But he did pop home around 9pm between visiting friends to see me and gave me the biggest hug. God, I love him!

The next night we had friends visiting from out of town and went out to dinner and then hung by the fire pit for the rest of the night. O came home around 11 and sat with us for a while, entertained by Greg and his whiskey-fueled musings. I don’t know what time “we” called it a night but the next morning Leila told me she yelled at Greg for being so loud at 3 a.m. and he said someone was a real pool shark, which prompted me to say – wait, WHO is a pool shark? And Greg said, Todd. The two of them were playing pool until 3 0’clock in the morning. Apparently very loudly. And I slept through it all.

Sunday was our JDRF fundraiser and I was so proud to have O there with us (V wanted nothing to do with it) – friends and family were there and he got to talk about school and how he’s doing, and I just stood back and took him in. My heart just swells when I look at him. He amazes me and yet he is exactly who he has always been. Yes, I’m gushing. Deal with it.

He spent the night at my mom’s because she offered to drive him back to school the next day, so I had to say goodbye to him in front of everyone and after I hugged him I ran away and burst into tears. I was so not expecting to have that reaction to saying goodbye this time. My heart wanted to explode. WTH is this? This is me. In a nutshell, I have always, always had this separation anxiety that feels like fear. But I refuse to have either of my children feel this.

So the following weekend was Homecoming for V. She got the last hair appointment at the salon that was at EIGHT THIRTY IN THE MORNING for… are you sitting down?… SIXTY-FIVE DOLLARS. For a set. And spent the rest of the day trying not to lay her head down. This was $30 more than a wash, cut, and style. I’m shocked and more than a little pissed. I guess I’m too told to know that this is normal for special events, but for lord’s sake, it’s not a gad-dang wedding.

So her girlfriend came over and they got ready together, we took some beautiful pics of them and, on the drive to the school, friend was gushing about some boy from the private school who’s Russian and has an accent and “he’s so pretty.”

I left early to pick them up so I could park close to the building and watch all these girls walking out barefoot in dresses just long enough to cover their underwear. When my two got in the car they told me those girls have “spandex” on underneath, but I still don’t know exactly what “spandex” entails unless it’s just shorts. Nevertheless, WAY too much skin showing and now I know I sound old. I will take comfort that one day they too will know the betrayal of middle age.

Oh! And there’s this “new dance” called “grinding.” I had to laugh because it’s so NOT NEW and to V I said, you know that Prince was singing about this in the 80s, right? They were chatting in the backseat about who was doing it and, “did you do it?” “No! I didn’t do it.” “It’s disgusting.” And I’m still wondering how those other girls were doing it in those shirts disguised as dresses. Oh right – spandex.

The day after, V went to another friend’s house for a birthday party. I went to the door with her to talk to the parents and I mistook mom for V’s friend when she opened the door and then I really felt old. I swear they’re making parents younger and younger these days.

So last weekend – the highlight of October thus far – was a long-awaited concert with Dennis DeYoung. We got the tickets during a PBS fundraiser one cold winter night by the fire with a bottle of wine, with a meet-and-greet attached. It was held in an old, small, historic venue about an hour and half from us, and we were front row and center. It was awesome. His band was great – the lead singer, August Zadra, a perfect blend of Dennis’ voice and Tommy Shaw’s. He and guitarist Jimmy Leahey were amazing and they were having so much fun up there it was impossible not to smile back and by the end my cheeks were sore.

Dennis is the consummate and most gracious host. And funny. He asked who in the audience was seeing him live for the first time. I raised my hand. And then he fired back at the crowd, well what the hell have you all been waiting for? I’m 72 years old for God’s sake. And then, what? You said to each other, we better go see that guy before he dies, right? And we all laughed. He’s still got it and you know how some long-time rockers’ voices have altered with age? Not his. It’s the same, perfect voice that sang in the darkness of a 7th grade dance long ago.

And we were surrounded by old people. Well, not really, but the average age was easily 55. I was in line for the bathroom before the show, a line about 30 women long so I was texting Todd who was waiting downstairs. Are we really this old? He said, they’re old. We’re not. But, we blend, I said.

But we’re not all old. A woman in one of the stalls: Does anyone see a tampon machine out there? A collective “no.” And then, Can you guess what my next question is?

I do, I said. Because I have these things in every purse I carry, because – middle age. You never know when the body is next going to fuck with you, because middle age is a bitch with a ruthless sense of humor. I agreed to play along once I realized this was a one-way street, so I come prepared in most cases.

After the show we lined up with all the other fossils in the VIP section for pictures with Dennis, who was flanked by his wife of 50 years (Suzanne sings backup) and his lead singer – interesting, we assumed so no one can get too close to him. Dennis said to Todd, you were in the front row. And Todd thought that was cool that he noticed, and I really think it was because he was the only one holding up his phone for two hours (after Dennis, during the concert, remarked about getting away from technology and current shitstorm for a night). Then he asked if we got sprayed with sweat/spit in the front row, and I said, only a little, which was my way of joking but no one really laughed so now I’m wondering if they thought I was serious and now I’m feeling bad.

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Copyright Taraka and The Tara Chronicles, 2019.

The rest of the weekend was sort of anticlimactic – I got up after 5 hours of sleep to do the neighborhood yard sale and, after making exactly 25 cents in the first hour, declared it a waste I’ll never do again. Meanwhile Todd, who was carrying random shit out during the sale, made $10 and a new friend in a half hour.

I leave you with the lyrics to this song recorded by Dennis DeYoung in 1980 and that in-the-moment, nearly-40-years-later revelation of how its timelessness resonates today. (Thank you Dennis.)

Tonight’s the night we’ll make history, honey, you and I
And I’ll take any risk to tie back the hands of time
And stay with you here tonight
I know you feel these are the worst of times
I do believe it’s true
When people lock their doors and hide inside
Rumor has it it’s the end of Paradise
But I know, if the world just passed us by
Baby I know, you wouldn’t have to cry
The best of times are when I’m alone with you
Some rain some shine, we’ll make this a world for two
Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime
We’ll take the best, forget the rest
And someday we’ll find these are the best of times
These are the best of times
The headlines read ‘these are the worst of times’
I do believe it’s true
I feel so helpless like a boat against the tide
I wish the summer winds could bring back Paradise
But I know, if the world turned upside down
Baby, I know you’d always be around
The best of times are when I’m alone with you
Some rain some shine, we’ll make this a world for two
Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime
We’ll take the best, forget the rest
And someday we’ll find these are the best of times
These are the best of times
And so my friends we’ll say goodnight
For time has claimed it’s prize
But tonight will always last
As long as we keep alive memories of Paradise…
Source: Musixmatch

The Girls Take Cape May, 2019

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Mom, Veruca, and I took our annual girls’ trip to the shore. Mom picked V up at her dad’s and drove here to pick me up (not exactly on the way but Moses was staying with Todd). I was the last one ready and mom was literally threatening to get in the car with V and start driving away. There’s a lot that goes into travel with V – making sure we have all the usual diabetes supplies in spades PLUS those we never use, just in case, like glucagon (rescue med) and syringes and backup insulin for pump failure.

We were less than a mile in and V’s hard case was sliding around in the back. I told mom to pull over and I got out to fix it. She couldn’t find the button to open the trunk. She was pressing the door locks and I had to tell her that was not it. So she got out of the car with me and opened the trunk and V’s suitcase came flying out and landed at my feet, which I totally called before I had even gotten out of the car.

We returned this year to the Marquis de Lafayette, this time in a suite with kitchen and living room with a pull-out couch that V commandeered the minute we arrived after several minutes of me insisting I would sleep there and she could have my bed. The battle to have one’s own space is real.

Our traditional first night dinner is always at Godmother’s – a lovely Italian eatery in a cozy old Victorian house. We stopped at the liquor store for wine first, where these two women rudely stepped in front of me in every.damn.aisle. and I bit my tongue because – first night on vacation and because – vacation. But OMG, it was SO HARD.

What we ordered: Caesar salads and clams casino, mozzarella fritti, fettuccine alfredo, vegetable risotto with lump crab, and good old-fashioned ravioli. For dessert: chocolate gelato. We took tiramisu and a citrus sponge cake to go. Everything, as always, was delicious. V must have looked really dehydrated, as her water glass was kept filled by the busboy, who would ask her if she wanted more water after circling the dining room.

After dinner we returned to the hotel where V and I met up with another T1D-mom (and family) I’ve been Facebook friends with since the MOD Squad debacle several years ago – we live not days away but several hours from each other and this was the first time we were in the same state, if not the same town. How serendipitous! It truly made my day. I’d swear she and I are spawn of the same dragon, and I know how weird that sounds and I’m glad I didn’t say it before we met so she wouldn’t have changed her mind about meeting me.

The Barefoot Bar at the hotel had live music that evening and as V & I paid our bill and prepared to go back to the room, I looked up and saw mom dancing on the balcony like she was at Woodstock. Oddly enough the room smelled a lot like Woodstock too, when we got inside. I said something mildly sarcastic to her and she actually sssshushed me.

Day 2

The first full day we spent by the pool on a picture perfect day, the sun nodding in and out of the clouds and a beautiful breeze that kept us cool. The hotel has changed since last year – we now have wrist bands to wear at the pool to identify us as guests and we’re each allowed only one towel (mom- WTF? We can’t have more than one towel?). The restaurant no longer has the breakfast buffet and, while probably not the money machine it once was, I enjoyed the nearly-empty dining room and the old-school waitress who treated us like family.

Mom left soon after lunchtime to nap and V and I decided to hit the mall for shopping. Our location is ideal as we can walk to the Washington Street Mall, which is a quaint stretch of brick and paved closed street with shops and places to eat. I found a Cape May hoodie and then we walked to Fralinger’s for fudge (peanut butter and vanilla) and taffy, which you can choose by the flavor. I bought Todd his favorites: molasses, peanut butter, and vanilla, so he can’t say I wasn’t thinking about him.

We had planned dinner at the YB again this year – the restaurant V randomly picked as we walked back from the Kiwanis flag folding ceremony last year. She again ordered the jalapeno mac and cheese poppers. Mom ordered the Greek Salad (real Greek salad) and a crab cake with a lemon parsley aioli. I nibbled on her salad and ordered the yellowfin tuna with watermelon salsa and spicy soba noodles. We three shared the truffle French fries – which, btw, are exceptionally enhanced by dipping them into the lemon parsley aioli. Again, everything was fabulous. The soba noodles were a bit more tender (okay, swollen) than I like them, having absorbed, too much, the dressing. Still – YB remains one of Cape May’s finest. Highly recommend.

Day 3

Woke at the ass-crack of dawn (5 a.m.) and could not fall back to sleep. I gave up trying and went to watch the sun rise from our balcony, which – surprisingly – is THE noisiest place to be at dawn. The hotel sits at such an angle that a full view of the sunrise is obscured by the building and, since it’s on Beach Avenue as all “oceanfronts” are, this means the trash and recycling crew are shouting at one another over the din of the waves and delivery trucks and street cleaners. At 6 A.M. It’s the one thing I love more about OCMD. Oceanfront is just that. The only roar you hear is the roar of the ocean.

Breakfast at the Mad Batter. Another old Victorian home converted into a restaurant. Line down the street for tables, so we choose to eat at a counter overlooking the bar, which was just fine. Crab and eggs benedict for mom, monstrous pancakes for V, and an omelet for me. Fresh-squeezed orange juice and people watching. And then this woman walked by us and the expression on her face changed dramatically/ambiguously and she reached out for mom and my mom simultaneously reached for her and they both exclaimed. At that point I knew this was a non-violent encounter and soon discovered mom catered for her and they knew each other quite well. (Hey – one never knows.)

Tuesday night’s dinner was at the Harbor View Restaurant, which came highly recommended from a friend. It’s between Cape May and the bridge to Wildwood. It was a late dinner – we were seated in the upstairs dining room with panoramic views of the water and sky. Mom ordered a Ketel rocks and I ordered a cabernet.

Another beyond-noshing tour ensued: two orders of steamed clams in garlic and white wine, clams casino (what IS this obsession with this 70s classic?), Seafood Fra Diavlo (mom), Linguine with clams (V), and Crab Cakes with mash (me).  The Crab Cakes came out as balls and I impulsively picked them up and held them chest level and my mom cackled out loud. And took my picture. The waitress assured us it wasn’t the first time someone had done this. We laughed our asses off and Veruca was pissed, which only became funnier as we drove home cracking jokes about balls and the Nav system’s directions (“turn left NOW!”) and she didn’t talk to us the rest of the night.

She quickly stalked off the elevator when we landed on our floor and stormed down the hall, mom and I still sniggling, and I turned to mom and said, I feel like the two bad children and mom is mad at us. The words barely escaped my lips and mom was howling again, which made my own hysteria worse and my bladder threatened to betray me in the worst imaginable way, and in my favorite capri jeans. Which, would have been divine justice in V’s eyes, but thankfully I made it in time.

And then mom made me call the restaurant because she thought she’d left her retainer on the table and, while we’re on hold, I spy the case ON THE BEDSIDE TABLE. So she hung up. And now they’ve got MY number marked as crazy drunk lady.

Day 4

Last day in Cape May. We were up relatively early and mom sent me downstairs to exchange our three “cards” for three towels and place them on our lounge chairs. It is a cutthroat scene poolside every morning to get your seats. The man who manages the pool area smiled broadly at me and said good morning, and continued to do the same throughout the day and asked me how I’m doing honey. I could have chosen to be creeped out by his enthusiasm and attention, but I’m 50 now and I’ll take it. So thank you, creepyhappy pool guy.

Went back upstairs to the room to eat leftovers for breakfast and noticed from the window that some woman had sat down on MY towel and lounge chair. What the hell is wrong with people? Like a tiger charging an antelope, I gathered my shit and raced downstairs to give her what for. Creepyhappy pool guy, who had literally just seen me not 20 minutes before, said good morning and how are you today? AGAIN. Which is good because it gave me time to breathe and his enthusiasm was enough to slow down the freight train heading for pool chair number 8. I approached her and smiled. She was older than she appeared from the balcony and now I’m feeling like an asshole while still letting her know these chairs were reserved, which she didn’t know. She didn’t know why the towels were already on some of the chairs, and was sorry. And I’m still an over-reactive asshole.

We had calamari and chicken tacos poolside with Painkillers – a delightful tropical drink made with Pusser’s Rum (yes, really), pineapple and orange juices and coconut milk, topped with a dusting of nutmeg. Later, I called Todd from the bar as I ordered a drink, glancing over my shoulder at V who was glaring at me in her nasty judgy way because I was having a drink in the afternoon. I smiled at her and turned my back.

Later, she and I went for a stroll down Washington Street to the Emlen Physick estate – the location of the haunted tour we were taking later that evening. We snapped some photos along the way and stopped at Dog Days of Cape May for puppy treats. V had a low of 47 so we popped into a candy store for butterscotch candies, and ended up having a quick lunch together at Delaney’s, where they were rocking to the 80s music of my youth which was great until Parents Just Don’t Understand started and I just lost it. V thought I was nuts and all I could think of was my teen summers in Wildwood.

This post is way longer than I intended, so I apologize. I try to keep them as close to 1000 to 1200 words to avoid being boring and self-indulgent.

We ended our vacation with breakfast across the street at Alethea’s, on the porch inside The Inn at Cape May. Mom had Lobster Benedict, V had Texas French Toast, and I ordered an omelet with cheddar, spinach, peppers, and onion. It was excellent. Another not-to-miss for breakfast in Cape May.

 

 

The Long Journey Home

……began at 3 a.m. Todd loaded everything into the rental car – a Chevy Equinox that smelled like a brand new car, had that unnerving stop-start technology, and the worst turning radius  since my Volvo. Stop-start by the way, if you’re as unfamiliar as I was, basically means the car goes into this sort of sleep mode when it’s stopped – like at a stop light. The first day we were out in it, it happened and I panicked. Like oh shit, the car broke down. And then Todd stepped on the gas and it jumped back to life.

Anyway, McCarron Airport is really easy to navigate… and the car return very simple. We dropped the car off and caught the shuttle to departures, checked the balls and suitcase again and then stood in a massive line waiting for the security checkpoint to open. And then it opened with ONE guy at the podium checking ID and tickets, and making unnecessary small talk with EVERYone. At 4:00 in the morning (PST). The other guy, the Paul Blart of TSA, was directing people a few at a time to step into the line and walking around puffing his chest and trying to look very important.

We landed in Baltimore. I saw the sign directing us toward baggage claim, but Todd went the other way. I tried to stop him. Nope. Up the escalator to the main concourse and then I told him we needed to go back down. I’ve literally been to this airport twice in my life and I’M telling HIM which way to go.

We collect his ball bags and suitcase and then head to the escalator that takes us to the parking garage. We get on the escalator and two steps up and Todd’s bowling bags fall, rolling down the escalator and there’s Todd, trying to catch them, and of course they keep rolling down as the escalator rolls up. And THEN he loses control of his suitcase too. All three of his bags are out of control on the up-escalator and I’m helplessly watching from above. Some lady who works in the airport is all, just let them go sir, and he’s all  pissed off and NOT letting them go. I hurriedly get off the escalator at the top, drop my suitcase and get back on trying to help which, at this point, is fruitless.

He finally gets it all together as he reaches the top and I help him pull the bags off. He restacks the two bowling bags and then his suitcase falls over, and I am immediately struck with the hilarity of it all and burst out laughing. Except Todd has all but lost his sense of humor and it is NOT FUNNY.

Okay, get serious. So we start walking toward the garage and I’m like, is this the right skywalk? Which of course it wasn’t, and we had to go back down. We decided to take the elevator this time, thank God. Then hurry across the check-in area and get to the correct elevator to our skywalk. Get out of the elevator and hop on the moving sidewalks to make things a bit easier. Easier, until Todd gets off and the bowling bags topple over again. And then the suitcase falls over as he’s trying to right the bowling bags. I’m SO going to hell for laughing.

We get on the elevator at the garage and I just want to say it’s very important to take a photo of the level you park on before you leave because I did, but remembered anyway, and Todd was all, are you sure this is it? and I’m all, HERE’S the picture I took.  Including a pic of the space number we parked in. We get in the car with a huge sigh of relief. Finally.

And…. the car won’t start. Because his dash cam doesn’t automatically shut off like mine does, it was running ALL WEEK. And now we have to figure out what to do about this unexpected ending to the clusterfuck in the airport. And my husband, who always knows the answer and how to fix everything, likely because he is still recovering from the suitcase-gate, is temporarily at a total and complete loss. So Tara – who hates dealing with shit like this – takes over.

I google the airport/help with disabled vehicles, and then dial the number. They say they’re dispatching someone to help and we go back to the car and wait. While we’re standing there, Todd notices the emergency phones that are strategically placed throughout the parking garage for situations such as these. Yellow phones that are clearly visible, that us 50-year-olds didn’t see.

Fast forward to the drive home, which wasn’t terribly stressful until we get to a traffic jam on 95 three exits from ours. Todd decides to get off and take the local roads home, but somehow makes the wrong turn that neither of us notice until I see a sign that says “Welcome to Baltimore County” which I know is all kinds of wrong and when I point it out he actually asks me if I’m sure that’s what I saw. So we’ve essentially been driving BACK to Baltimore after 30 minutes on the road.

Opac is waiting for us to get home before he leaves for a graduation party and so I text him back that I don’t even know and “ima cry,” because we have to stop for gas and Todd again makes a wrong turn. And then he calls and I’m afraid to answer because I don’t want to tell him in front of Todd the extent of the clusterfuck we’ve been in since we landed.

We finally pull in the driveway, two hours and forty-five minutes after we landed. For perspective, it’s roughly an hour’s drive to the airport from our house (based on traffic on 95).

 

 

Sin City – The Climax

Day 4

We drove down the Strip to see the long-awaited Venetian. This is the one casino I wanted to see most. And it was stunning. Italy-inspired facades …the ceilings were painted like sky and clouds (which is exactly what Caesar’s and Paris did too) and the “sidewalks” were glistening like wet stones.

I was looking forward to seeing the gondolas. The line was as long as Space Mountain in Disney and it was $30 per person. Gondola on a 3-foot deep pool, inside, the gondolier’s singing echoing off of the storefronts…. meh. Gondola in Venice? Hell yeah.

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Anyway, designer stores like Barney’s, Kate Spade, Hugo Boss, Tory Burch, Bottega Veneta, Pandora, Coach, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Michael Kors. I took a pic of these butt ugly MK sneakers that looked like wrestling shoes for V and she said, ooh, can you buy them for me?  Ha. Aint gonna happen. A new handbag featured in one of the window display boxes was actually designed for me and so we went in to have a closer look. $358. I’m in love. I NEED this handbag.

In summary – the Venetian was another stunning playground but no more special than the others and it wasn’t paying out either. We left The Venetian and drove to Fremont Street to meet the gang, who was already there.

Fremont Street is a strange and bustling not-to-be-missed sideshow which is like the B-side of the Vegas album. It’s a closed street under a roof that produces an overhead light show set to music that’s supposed to be really spectacular. I don’t know if I was all Vegased out or just slipping into the stoned side of a week’s worth of mindless drinking, but I was not impressed. It was cool, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t feeling all, this is the best light show ever!

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People were zip-lining overhead under the ceiling all night long, which looked cool but I wondered if anyone has ever thrown up while on it? The line was massive for that too and I had no interest in holding my bladder that long.

There were these black circles painted on the street in various places designated for street performers – like cast members stuck in a surreal limbo between a homemade freakshow and a bad audition – not beautiful or talented or freaky enough to work on the Strip. Many of them just stand there and hang out. Impersonators like Deadpool, Heisenberg, and Jack Sparrow. Scantily-clad girls offering to “whip” people – in plain view of hundreds of passersby for a small fee. I was literally feet away from some guy who got down on his hands and knees for this. Twice.

A dude in a cowboy hat with no shirt offering I-don’t-know-what. Two “military hunks” who picked people up on their shoulders for a picture. For a fee. Another guy, who was not standing in one of those circles, in nothing but a g-string with his pitifully small package (yes I did look and don’t judge because a train wreck is a train wreck) and a cowboy hat, smoking a cigarette. He was easily in his late 50s and I wondered if he just did this for his own kicks.

A topless girl in a nun’s habit with long droopy breasts and what looked like black electrical tape crisscrossed over each of her nipples. She attracted a lot of hilarious, shocked stares and giggling. Rob said she looked like Macaulay Culkin, which might have been funny except she was disturbingly serious and dejected looking. She carried a black leather whip in her hand, I’m guessing so she could whip people too. Moments into her stint, a much-older, angry looking Native American man on an electric scooter with a sleeping infant strapped to his chest wheeled circles around her, talking to her, and then he wheeled away into the crowd. Her expression never changed. When he returned two more times it became apparent they knew each other. I wondered who he was to her and if that baby was hers. The whole scene so disturbed me and I’m still not able to fully articulate what I was feeling.

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Oil application begins. Note the child in the background.

She was replaced at some point by a guy with an Ace Frehley wig and makeup on, who appeared out of nowhere with his duffle bag and proceeded to strip down to a thong and put on “the boots.” He rooted around inside his bag and pulled out a bottle of baby oil and slathered all over his chest and body, and then stood there dancing and staring people down. Two ladies came over and took their picture with him and all I could think of was that that oil was now all over their clothes. He caught me videoing him with my phone and I have him pointing at me and motioning to me with an uncomfortable stare. Big Mistake. Anyway… total earnings on my watch…. Ace: $10, Nun: $0.

 

We walked around some more, bought two frozen drinks for $38 – probably for the souvenir cup BOTH of my kids thought was a bong which invites a whole other list of questions for another post. I took photos until my phone died, and played some slots in these ancient casinos and actually won some money. I rubbed Buddha’s belly in the California Casino when we arrived, so maybe that accounts for my first win in 4 days?

Summary: Fremont Street is worth a visit, but again – not a place for children. And there were plenty of them, witnesses to the depravity that exists in a vacuum for most people. I felt dirty after being there.

Total walking distance on this day: 5.65 miles.

 

The Last Day

Copyright Taraka, 2019.

Hoover Dam. About a 50-minute drive through elevated desert and mountains. Acres of windmills in the hazy heat. More brown and dirt and dust and sand but for the few scrubby green plants that have defied the desert sun and dared to grow up without a lick of water.

We arrived at the security checkpoint where all windows must be down and a guard peers into your vehicle and asks if we have firearms. We drove through, parked on the Arizona side and then walked over to the Nevada side. It was another hundred-degree day of unforgiving sun and there were hundreds of people here. All nationalities. We each took a ton of photos and stared in awe at this monstrous manmade structure. We walked across the Pat Tillman bridge which seems miles above the dam.

We drove back “home” and changed out of our sweaty clothes, and then drove back down to Old City to visit the Neon Museum. This outdoor museum has curated old neon signs and has placed them throughout a “Neon Boneyard.”

There are signs from old businesses, casinos, motels… some dating back to the 1930s and 40s. They’re huge. Some are only parts of signs. One as recent as 2015. Many are famously recognized.

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The whole thing is outside in blazing sun – and they’re only open until 7 p.m. so you have to go during the day and it’s supposedly most busy around 5 or so. We got there around 4 and had the place to ourselves. They offer umbrellas you can borrow and there are employees stationed here and there to answer questions, although the one woman Todd spoke to acted as if he was bothering her and then disappeared. Everything is sort of leaning against a wall or propped up, stacked in staggered rows, and leaves you feeling like it’s haphazard – which is the intentional feeling they’ve created, of a neon scrap and recycle yard.

The museum shop you actually enter and exit the Boneyard through. The two folks in there were friendly and talkative, probably because they – unlike their counterparts outside – had the benefit of working in air conditioning. I could have bought a lot of stuff in there, but we settled on two t-shirts and a small aluminum sign for the bar we don’t have yet.

That was our last stop on the Vegas tour. We were absolutely DONE. For me, there’s only so much casino-ing a non-gambler can do. I was so over the scene, the heat, the refrigeration-grade a/c, the cigarette smoke, and people. Our flight departed at 5:30 a.m. the next morning so we spent the rest of the evening at the condo packing and relaxing.

Total walking distance: 4.47 miles.

 

Miscellaneous:

 

Neon Museum: Hours, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission: $22. Don’t miss! Side note: women’s t-shirts run super small – I’m thinking there was an error and these were actually children’s size t-shirts. I bought an XL (I’m normally a size M) and it’s still tight as a compression sock.

Fremont Street: Fremont Street, which dates back to 1905, was the first paved street in Las Vegas, in 1925, and received the city’s first traffic light in 1931. As I always do, I did some research on things to do and see. I made a list:

  • Viva Vision Light Show
  • Vegas Vic
  • Happy Buddha’s Belly (statue @ California Hotel and Casino.) Rub his belly for good luck. Coins left at the statue are donated to charity.
  • Binions – free photo with $1M
  • Golden Gate Casino – historic artifacts like gaming ledgers from the early 1900s and vintage chip racks.
  • Main Street Station – antiques all around the hotel plus there’s a huge slab of the Berlin Wall in the men’s restroom (ask to be escorted by security to see it). I REALLY wanted to do this but just ran out of steam.
  • The Shark tank at the Golden Nugget

 

Slotzilla Zipline – at Fremont Street. Fly seated seven stories high for $25 or “superhero style” eleven stories high for $49 ($45 before 5 p.m.)

Gondola at The Venetian – Regular pricing is $29 for a shared gondola, or $114 for a private gondola. The pricing varies based on dates and month, apparently. There’s also photo packages starting at $22. There are indoor and outdoor gondola rides.

 

The Happy Buddha, another performer at Fremont Street, and a random photo of the landscape around Henderson.

Todd and Tara Take Sin City: Part 2

Day 2

Sunrise. Todd made coffee and I made a smoothie for breakfast. The singles/doubles tournament was at 2:30 so we had several hours to go down to the Strip. High of 99 degrees. I was really looking forward to this.

We were greeted by the world-famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign as we drove in, which was a lot smaller than I expected, with a LINE OF PEOPLE in front of it waiting to take their pic. We drove to The Tropicana and parked the car. If you’ve never been to Vegas, there are escalators outside that take you to a sidewalk overpass every couple of blocks or so. We took the one next to the Tropicana to get to Excalibur. Note: Do NOT touch the handrail.

We passed two homeless people engrossed in conversation in the shade, and another woman lying under the escalators with her dog (also lying on the ground). Homeless people, unlike San Francisco, are a surprise in Vegas, just by sheer design – the place appears very clean and is hotter than Satan’s bedroom. I felt more sorry for the dog than I felt for the people. Why was this dog lying outside on the sidewalk at 9 a.m. in 98 degrees?

So Excalibur is the casino that looks like a castle. For those folks in Southeastern PA, it looks a lot like Dutch Wonderland, only bigger. Inside was delightfully cool and I loved the atmosphere. I love the medieval/Renaissance period… so all you have to do is drop me into a story from that period or a room decorated accordingly and I will stay all day. We decided to collect club cards and play in each casino we visited, just for fun.

We left there and walked next door to Luxor, which is – hands down – my favorite casino in Vegas. Luxor is the shiny black, 30-story pyramid with the giant, towering sphinx out front. At night there’s the sky beam – a beam of light from the apex of the pyramid one can see for miles on a clear night. We walked in the front doors and there was this enormous entryway and a view all the way to the ceiling where you could see the lighted rooms/hallways. It was gorgeous inside. And, at this early hour, not terribly crowded yet but plenty of parents with children.

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Copyright Taraka 2019

Which is what also surprised me. Las Vegas has been pushing the family-friendly vibe for years now, but after 5 days there I honestly cannot understand why anyone in their right mind would WANT to take their kids there. It’s hotter than hell, even by the pool, there’s smoke everywhere, and there’s no shortage of scantily clad showgirls on the streets. And then there’s Fremont Street.

Anyway. The Luxor also has The Titanic Exhibition that I REALLY wanted to see, but we never made it. Tickets run $32, but I found if you’re buying same day tickets the price was $19. The Bodies Exhibition is also there. El Diablo and Rice & Company were two restaurants I noted but never made it to.

From Luxor we walked the indoor passage to Mandalay Bay. It should also be noted here that these three casinos I visited are all connected via a free tram. Mandalay was also pretty spectacular inside, very decadent but then I think they all are. I really wanted to see the pools there, but again – never made it – and there is a$20pp daily cost if you aren’t a guest of the hotel. Todd played the slots in all three – from old favorites to a few new ones – but never hit for more than a few bucks.

We headed back to the tournament. Todd drove the entire Strip so I could see it. There’s so much to see! There’s a two-story Coke bottle with an elevator inside. I decided to hang back at the condo while he bowled; I didn’t really feel like freezing my ass off for three hours. We’d already walked four miles today. We ended up staying at South Point for the night…. had junk food at the Del Mar Deli and Todd played some slots, where some dude asked me, ma’am, could you watch my machine for me (while he went to retrieve his beer at the machine he’d moved from). Fucking MA’AM.

Really feeling my age lately. I mean, I look in the mirror and I see me – the Tara I’ve always known – but I know intrinsically that people are seeing a middle-aged woman and not the me I think I am. It hits me hard and I don’t like it.

Total walking distance: 5.7 miles, which means that we racked up a MILE AND HALF just walking around the South Point casino. Kill me now.
Day 3

We drove down the strip again. Parked at The Flamingo, an old-time casino with a tremendous history linked to the mob in the late 1940s. It’s been through a lot of changes, but still retains the old-time feel. There’s a flamingo habitat in an outdoor courtyard, which we visited and Todd, as always, got the best pictures. I always think I’m being artistic, and then I look at the product and it looks like a two-year-old with no muscle control took it. Like, MY picture has the back of the flamingo, bending over. I don’t even know why I try.

As we were passing through, an employee pulled us aside to offer us some deals and led us over to the wheeler-dealer bitch who wanted us to pick something for free. NOW. We had just arrived and it got to this high pressure point where you wanna slap a bitch, and when she whipped out the 3-ring binder with pictures of our options my old New Yorker instincts kicked in and I just held up my hand and said, I’m done. I just got here and I’m not making decisions right now.

We left the Flamingo and walked across the street to Caesar’s, which was really decadent. I swear, every casino is more decadent than the last. This is Disney for adults, on steroids. One of Caesar’s employees approached us to ask if we were staying on the property and I just put up the hand and walked away, and Todd was the one being Mr. Nice Guy, which is all kinds of ass-backwards. I literally have no qualms about flat out ignoring somebody and unapologetically walking away.

The temp went up to 106 degrees. We walked 6.54 miles. I was impressed and a bit proud to experience 106 degrees.  The sun was blazing hot and I began to feel a bit schizophrenic going between the wonderfully cool a/c and the blistering heat on the street.

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Doesn’t look like 106, does it?

We walked along the street to Paris. More people on the street selling shit. I saw Elvis in an electric wheelchair, which caught me off guard and I must have looked happily surprised… and then the damn bastard stopped and muttered something about a pic for x dollars. What… I’m going to sit on his lap for a picture? Fuck that and his shitbrand polyester suit.

Paris, too, was gorgeous inside. I’m being redundant. We just walked through without playing anything. Took pictures. Enjoyed the air conditioning before stepping back into the frying pan on the street. Remember those news reports where the reporter would cook an egg on the hood of a car? Yeah. Anything that was spilled on the street here looked like it had been welded to the blacktop.

We walked back to the Flamingo,  passing several half-naked showgirls including two from the Flamingo with a heart-shaped pasty over each nipple and nothing else, and there are adolescent boys and little kids walking by. We ended up having lunch  … as it turned out, at Carlos and Charlies. We shared an enormous plate of nachos and drank margaritas.

Todd played the Game of Thrones slot machine afterward, and hit for $40. Which is when Tara quits playing, but Todd keeps rolling the dice until the money runs out. The difference is, he wins. I rarely do. He says he doesn’t like playing on the Strip, because the machines just don’t pay out. I could be wrong, but if you keep playing you might just lose more???

Later, after resting at the condo, we returned to the Strip to see the Cirque du Soleil show Mystére at Treasure Island. It was phenomenal. I never in my life thought I needed to see one of these shows. I actually had tears in my eyes. I highly recommend seeing one of them. You will not be disappointed. And we had fantastic seats.

We puttered around the casino afterward, thought about buying a Mystére t-shirt for $40 and decided not to. Of all the casinos we visited on this trip, Treasure Island was the most disappointing. It was remarkably small and the machines Did Not Pay Out. At All.

 

 

The Bellagio and Luxor at night

Ended up back at South Point where Todd took to the slots again and I sat at one of the centrally located bars and ordered a margarita and dropped five bucks into the tabletop card game. The bartender called me “Miss” and all was right with the world again.

Miscellaneous:

Cirque du Soleil Mystere If you watch nothing else, skip ahead to 4:42. One of the most breathtaking parts of the show. **I do not own the rights to this video.

The Luxor –  Tupac was staying here when he was shot and killed. Casino appeared in Mars Attacks, Vegas Vacation, and The Hangover. Current shows: Carrot Top and Blue Man Group.

Excalibur – Also featured in Vegas Vacation. Current shows: Thunder Down Under, The Australian Bee Gees, and Tournament of Kings.

Mandalay Bay – Current show: Cirque du Soleil, Michael Jackson: One. (Couldn’t score tickets for this show even a month ahead. For good seats, that is.)

The Flamingo – sits on 40 acres originally purchased for $8.75 an acre by one of Vegas’ first settlers, Charles Squires. Years later the casino was developed and opened by Bugsy Siegel in 1946. Show: Donnie and Marie (soon to be replaced by Paula Abdul in August). Obnoxious salespeople: next to the flamingo habitat.

 

 

 

 

Todd and Tara Take Sin City

This year’s National Bowling Tournament season is in Vegas. I was so excited. Not excited to freeze my ass off at a bowling tournament as a spectator, but because I’ve never been to Nevada and I love adventures. And apparently when you get old there is a crapload of mishaps to make you question your very existence.

The tournament was two days but we decided to stay extra days in a timeshare, at the Grandview of Las Vegas, on the Strip but technically in Henderson, Nevada. We were right next door to the South Point Casino, as in, imagine strolling out your front door and walking across the yard to your neighbor’s house. (Pay attention to this detail – it’s going to matter later on.)

But first, we had to get there…

Our Southwest flight was scheduled for 3:25 p.m. In spite of a very stressful ride down I-95, we made it on time and checked his two bowling bags and one suitcase. We didn’t use the self-tagging system because – we’re old. I always keep my carry-on.* Todd had paid for priority boarding and then we ended up with A60 and B1. I bought a bag of M&Ms and one small package of cheese and pepperoni for $17.

After we all lined up, there was an issue – “a problem with the lavatory.” And then we were getting another plane, at the gate next door – the flight was now departing (over an hour later) at 4:45. And everyone – it was the like the exodus out of Egypt – rushed to the gate. Todd and I got separated. A half hour later we lined up again. THEN… we hate to do this to you, folks….they told us there was an issue with one of the seats and maintenance was called.  The dad in front of us swore audibly and generally looked like he’d rather be anywhere else than here with his wife and two kids. And then someone on line farted the most noxious fart I’ve smelled since that memorable elevator ride with mom-mom.

Finally boarded – separately because … A & B (yes, even if you are last in A and hubs is first in B) – but we didn’t have to share with anyone. We watched Glass on his laptop and then Todd sketched on his iPad Pro (guaranteed to draw attention) and I read my book (draws zero attention). A few more noxious farts followed and, since the aforementioned miserable dad was sitting directly in front of us, I nailed it on him. The rest of the flight was filled with the usual – an onion sandwich, a cologne-soaked flight attendant, occasional wafts of alcohol, and people bumping Todd’s shoulder on the aisle. The flight attendant had lots of questions about the iPad (like I said).

Next up: deplaning, collecting luggage, and catching the shuttle to the car rentals, and I was thinking I had a good sense of where we were going but I quickly learned I was fucking up at every turn so I decided to shut up. It got worse, because I fucked up the timeshare reservation and so at 8:30 p.m. PST I was calling my mother (the owner) to contact RCI to issue a “guest certificate” I never got, at 11:00 p.m. HER TIME. She was not pissed. Todd was. He got 5 minutes alone in the car to “vent” at me and then we decided to walk over to South Point for [free!] drinks while waiting for RCI to fix it. Three beers later and waaaaay past my bedtime, we finally checked into our sweet 12th floor condo around 10.

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See South Point Casino in the background between the two condo buildings.       Copyright Taraka 2019.

Day 1

We both woke up to the sun rising slowly like a sleepy stretch – what do you do when you wake up at 8 but the clock says it’s only 5:00 a.m.? We went in search of coffee and ended up having breakfast, and then drove around until we found the grocery store. LET. ME. TELL. YOU. Anderson’s is the place. The produce department in this store at 6:30 a.m. would put Wegman’s to shame. It was a fucking work of art. It was beautiful.

Henderson is a flat, dusty settlement just outside Vegas city limits, surrounded by mountains – one was snow-capped (for reals). One of the most notable things about Nevada for me (besides hundred-degree weather) was that everything is some shade of brown. The homes are brown. The roofs are brown. The developments are surrounded by high concrete (brown) walls. There’s a stark absence of “green” everywhere but on the strip where small patches of lawn are cultivated by the casinos.

Anyway, we unloaded our groceries at the condo and jumped back in the car to go to the tournament. Todd drove to the convention center, a 20-minute drive down I-15 to the opposite end of the Strip. And there were no signs for the USBC tournament. He called Chris from our team. Are you ready for this? The tournament was at the SOUTH POINT CASINO. Which we could have walked to.

So, in quick summary, I dropped him off at the door and drove the car next door to our condo and then walked over. I waited what seemed like forever for them to come out and get started, while I read my book and journaled in sub-zero temperatures. Soon hunger gripped me and I walked to the end of the lanes where there were beer-soaked hot dogs and margaritas. What could be better?

Todd and the team and I went to one of the casino lounges to wait for brackets results (don’t ask). Todd and Momma B took to the slots while the rest of us had cocktails – I got a PATRON margarita for $4. It took forever which is how I got a really nice buzz going before we all decided to stay and have dinner in the Italian restaurant, Don Vito’s. They had table-side Caesar salads and I was really excited until I saw the waiter dump a bottle of Caesar dressing on the greens in the wooden bowl. The food was good, although I made the mistake of ordering the Penne Bolognese, which is nothing like mine, and it was just okay. (Although it was way better reheated for lunch the next day – probably on account of a hangover.)

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$4 Patron margarita. See the USBC cocktail napkin.

Spent the rest of the night following Todd from slot machine to slot machine and dreaming of the soft bed waiting for me. I just don’t have his stamina. In fact, I can’t match the stamina in ANY of the Sagittarians in my life. (See 6-hour shopping trip with my mother.) They exhaust me.

We had also agreed to maintain the East Coast clock so we’d have less difficulty adjusting at home. Let’s see how long that lasted.

 

Miscellaneous:

My luggage was lost on a flight to Greece when I was eleven (eventually found) and I have been scarred for life. Thank you, TWA.

Body language can be very loud. The above-mentioned dad was standing off and away, nearly with his back to his wife and kids. Like they weren’t traveling together. Mom was handling everything. It made me melancholy and angry, and grateful that this is not my life anymore.

Gas while flying is a thing. Low pressure and a rapid increase in altitude contributes to this. Also, prolonged sitting, drinking carbonated beverages, and eating gas-producing foods (hello, onion sandwich eater). I wish angry-dad had worn charcoal inserts in his underwear (yes, there is) which is supposed to neutralize odors. ~ source, MSN online.

Free drinks at Casinos, while you’re playing. This was going to be a long week.

The sign for USBC was literally 20 feet away from the casino club counter where we got our club cards the night before. Not to mention that the cocktail napkins here have USBC on them.

Quick shout-out to Momma B: She is Chris and Rob’s 70-something-year-old mom. She bowls regularly; she travels to the National tournaments. This year she was in a wheelchair. She gets up to bowl, but otherwise rode in the chair the entire trip. It was awesome. She is sweet, sharp, and funny, has more stamina than me (I’ll have to ask her sign) and she was hitting the slots like a boss. She may have won more than all of us combined.

 

The Long Way to Erie, Part 2

We left Niagara Falls – an oddly quiet and yet noisy town, and drove through the fog toward Buffalo. We took 190 to North Street through a quiet area of historical buildings and more churches in a 3 block radius than I’ve ever seen in my life. North Street took us to the corner of Main, and the infamous birthplace of the original Buffalo chicken wings: The Anchor Bar.

Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY

The Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY Taraka, 2019

That’s right – we went to Buffalo for one thing and one thing only. The Anchor Bar, on approach, looks like a small, old house. Until you drive around to the left, where the entrance is and ample parking. The walls in the bar area are plastered with license plates from all over the U.S. and Canada. I loved the atmosphere – betcha it’s a fun place on the weekends too. We were seated at a small table against the outside wall that felt a bit like we were sitting uphill (old flooring = uneven flooring?) The menu is newspaper-format, with lots of options for stuffing yourself. The waitress was about our age and warm and welcoming.

We ordered the original wings, which are “medium” and absolutely delicious. According to the website, they will ship wings anywhere in the U.S., which sounds like a fantastic idea. I also ordered a Caesar salad, you know, for balance, and it was huge! Definitely big enough to share. SO glad we put this on our itinerary – if you’re a fan of hot wings, you must make the pilgrimage. Or even if you just like checking off bucket list things, like me.

There’s a small gift shop inside and so Todd stopped there while I used the bathroom. He bought a f@#%ing t-shirt, so that ups his collection to 84. But he also bought a bottle of the Buffalo sauce and a pint glass for the bar we don’t have. Woot! And then we were off to Erie.

I booked the Holiday Inn Express because we’ve always had good experiences there. It was right off the highway and, it turned out, was a few miles out from downtown Erie. Todd didn’t exactly complain, but when someone mentions more than four times that it would’ve been nice if we were closer to the bowling alleys….well…I guess I should’ve looked at a map.

We had a room at the end of the hall on the third floor overlooking the highway, and I really tried to hide my hysteria when Todd noted the noise from the trucks going by. I really did. But the room was nice and comfy! And ice cold. I’m assuming they save energy until someone checks in. There’s also an indoor pool which is really quite nice, if you’re not surrounded by thirty kids under 12 who are splashing and screaming like howler monkeys. Too bad I forgot to pack our suits. This time there was a Keurig in the room, so we could use our own coffee in reusable k-cups.

We rested a bit and decided to head out to the Brewerie at Union Station for a bite. Erie’s Union Station opened in 1927 and saw many travelers over the decades that followed, from WWII soldiers to FDR and Harry Truman, to Babe Ruth. There’s some really interesting history there, like underground tunnels, if you visit their website. The restaurant opened in 2006 as part of a revitalization campaign in Downtown Erie.

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The Brewerie at Union Station Taraka, 2019

We sat in a back booth and ordered an Erie Brewery’s Railbender Ale for Todd and the Misery Bay IPA for me. We liked them both so much, we brought three cases home (can’t get it here). We shared pulled pork bbq nachos and fried pierogies – both equally delicious. One can also purchase beer to go – including their own craft beer in crawler or growler size. The Brewerie at Union Station’s own HopMonster IPA is excellent and, sadly, I didn’t get to bring any home and they don’t currently distribute. (Side note if you visit: they are not open Sundays.)

The next day, Saturday, we got up early, visited the complimentary breakfast bar downstairs (why are scrambled eggs on a buffet always watery?) and hit the road to Cleveland. When I told my mom that I was excited to add another state to my list of states I’ve been to, she said flatly, “Ohio looks just like Pennsylvania,” which is kind of a pessimistic thing to say to someone.

In keeping with the ongoing theme of haunting fog, the skyline of Cleveland was shrouded in an eerie haze. The museum was easy to get to, and parking was also remarkably easy, overlooking Lake Erie. We walked the short distance to the museum and were approached directly by a homeless man and “former Vietnam Vet” who wanted us to buy a paper to help him support his wife and kids. Okay, so I felt a combination of annoyance and compassion, since I remember the homeless selling papers on the subway in New York and it was generally accepted as a legitimate occupation. But, as Todd said, we didn’t drive 300 miles to be solicited outside a museum for money. He also called bullshit on the sob story.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, Taraka, 2019

So the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t even know where to start. The place was crowded, but nothing like the Majestic Theatre so I didn’t complain. Most of the exhibits were comprised of some iconic article of clothing, and other artifacts. I was completely enthralled by the clothes. It sparked something in me I cannot explain yet. There were art posters from the 60s. Tickets from Woodstock. (My mom and dad had tickets to Woodstock. But they decided at the last minute that this was no place for a two-month old, and so dad gave the tickets away.)

Some of the more memorable things: Jimi Hendrix’s brown suede jacket, Janet Jackson’s jacket from the “Control” video, a hand-painted guitar owned by Springsteen, a pair of Ziggy Stardust suits, one of Michael Jackson’s gloves (I’m not so naive to think that’s the only glove), ZZ Tops’ furry drums, Biggie’s Poppa jersey, and a disturbingly small shirt worn by Keith Richards. There was a disappointingly small case of items from Prince – featuring a set list from the only tour I saw and those lace gloves. And then all of a sudden I was fighting back tears. And of course there was little else, because it wasn’t what he was about.

The way out is through the gift shop, of course, and while there were some cool items there, we weren’t even the least bit tempted by the overpriced kitchsy merch … ie… a Woodstock t-shirt for $59. There was a good deal of vinyl for sale: one album I have owned for over 30 years they were selling for $49.99.

We returned to the hotel for some down time before the tournament, which started at 6 p.m. at a BYOB bowling alley. After, five of us went back to the Brewerie at Union Station for snacks and beer. Chris tried a Clarion River Pineapple Under the Sea, rumored to be very sour, but he said it tasted like pee. I don’t often pass up the opportunity to at least taste a new beer, but … no thanks. I didn’t ask how he knew what pee tasted like.

Sunday morning the previous three days of excitement finally caught up with me, about a half hour into the 8 a.m. tournament. I was finishing up The Night Bird (great thriller – should be a movie) and nodding off. I wandered out to the car, started the engine for a few, and then curled up under a blanket until the sound of car doors and voices woke me. The rain returned as we drove the long way home, making road conditions dicey along with monstrous traffic of no particular origin. 6-1/2 hours to home.

 

From top and left to right: Springsteen’s guitar, Keith Richards’ shirt (compare size to the album), The $59 shirt, Cleveland’s skyline

On the Road Again: The Long Way to Erie

It’s PA State Bowling Tournament season again.  Todd and I took a long weekend, originally planning a side trip to Niagara Falls Canada, but the procrastinators in us didn’t get the passport situation handled so we opted for a 4-day tour through five states instead. Starting with our first stop – New York City. (This girl needed to “go home” for a day.)

We had tickets to see Phantom of the Opera, which I’ve never seen. I haven’t been in the city since I brought Veruca for her birthday six years ago. Todd asked me to drive, since he’s not familiar and/or not comfortable driving in the city. I made him promise me you won’t yell at me while I’m driving. Because truly, driving in Manhattan is not for the weak.

I tried to drive around Washington Square Park, which turned out to be partially blocked due to construction and now all I can think is they better move fast because graduation is coming up soon. In fact, there was construction everywhere in the village, making navigation tricky and frustrating and eventually Todd “gently” mentioned finding a parking garage. Forty five minutes later, as his voice creeped up to an edge where he threatened to get out of the car, I circled the theatre district trying to locate the garage.*

And then we sat there waiting to turn into the garage as 400 people continued to walk directly in front of my car halfway into the turn, without so much as a glance at us. AND THEN two girls stopped, right in front of my car, to take a picture. Todd was beside himself. Some things never change, but I curbed my natural instinct to roll down my window and start screaming.

We had a beautiful day in the city. The weather was perfect. Did some walking, got some pizza before the show. Stood in a monstrously long line at the Majestic, and then stood shoulder to shoulder with a hundred people inside waiting for the doors to our seats to open and I couldn’t help but wonder what the fire code was. A little girl ran in front of me and nearly knocked me down the flight of stairs I was standing on. Her mother grabbed her and… not so much as an apology. And then the two of them were behind us on our way to our seats, mom pushing against us with her bag until she could push past us to go to their seats. Which is when Todd finally snapped.

We had orchestra seats in row E, THIS CLOSE to the stage and it was fantastic. I was amazed by the way the stage and props move, and by how incredibly loud the music was. I’ve been to Broadway shows before but was still in awe of the production. We were also feet away from the closed-captioning/hearing impaired section and I was distracted by the closed-caption screen and the ASL interpreters who were literally acting out the scenes.

Afterward, we went to some non-descript pub for some light fare before hitting the road to Syracuse. I miss the city. I mean, I really miss it. Every time I go back, I tell myself I need to come back more often. For me. Todd, on the other hand, appreciates the city in small doses. It’s too densely populated with people. He’d go nuts here. He asked if I would move back. Most definitely. But I remember how easy it is to get burned out.

So we started on the long journey, but not before yelling at each other over changing “lanes” in the city to get to the Lincoln Tunnel. Todd was yelling at me to get over! And I’m yelling back, I can’t get over if there are cars already there! And don’t yell at me – I know what I’m doing! We had a great time.

I did the drive to Syracuse. It wasn’t planned, but once we were out of the city I just kept driving. It’s a long, lonely road, route 81. The route takes us back down into PA and then up into New York state. Did you know there’s a town in PA called Scotrun? If you glance at it quickly, it looks like scrotum.

Why did we go to Syracuse, you ask? We were there last year (see this post). It seemed a good stopping point from NYC to our eventual destination of Erie, PA. We thought we might make it to Kitty Hoynes – but we did not. We stayed at the Genesee Grand Hotel again, in a king suite which was lovely and cozy – which I only paid $7 and change for thanks to Hotels.com rewards. It’s under new management so no more complimentary coffee in the lobby. (We did attempt the coffeemaker in the room, but those are just terrible.) We ended up at a rest stop for Dunkin coffee a few miles out.

Next stop: Niagara Falls. Todd plugged it into the GPS but spelled it, Niagra – like VIAGRA. I found a single Oliver hair on my hoodie that morning – a hoodie that’s been washed several times since he’s been gone. It made my heart smile.

Niagara Falls was breathtaking. And crowded. It was chilly and overcast, and a little misty. The river is intense. You never think about the body that feeds the falls. I saw a black squirrel! I’ve never seen one before, and there were several, communing with the seagulls (or whatever they are – “rats with wings”). A black lab took off across the grass after a squirrel, and then doubled back to chase a grounded flock of geese. He was running with this big-ass smile only a dog can have, trailing his leash, as the geese took flight. Unbridled joy.

I took a dozen photos of the falls, marveling at the cloudy landscape that was Canada. Another bucket list item checked off.

We walked back to the car and I thanked Todd for bringing me here and for tolerating me lately. He gently stated that he noticed I’ve been edgy and grumpy lately. I told him to buckle up because the ride was just beginning. Welcome to Menopause! I said, I bet you never thought of this when we were 17. And he said, no, I just thought it’d be all sex, all the time.

We talked about bucket lists and doing things we’ve always wanted to do. I mentioned that meme: Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting Holy shit, what a ride! Which reminded Todd of that song from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Death by Misadventure…  face down in some dude’s pool. I prefer the former meme to this possibility.

Next stop: Buffalo.

 

*The Lincoln Tunnel is the way in if you’re going to the theatre district. I prefer the Holland Tunnel. It was always my point of entry, since I lived in the Village. And yes, it’s a thousand miles away from where we needed to park, but I wanted to go through the Village first.

**If you’ve ever driven in the city, you’ll notice that “lanes” are arbitrary.

***You wouldn’t have to pee so bad if you didn’t drink coffee all the way to New York. Just sayin’.

 

Photos copyright Taraka 2019

Cultural Things

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Chinatown Philly 2019

Last week I accompanied Veruca on a class trip to Chinatown (Philly). The Chinese teacher gave the students strict instructions to be respectful, walk no more than two astride, and absolutely “no frog on school bus.” I was given an itinerary with a list of students I was supervising (hey – I did NOT sign up for THAT) and we passed under the Friendship Gate – a beautifully painted arch that marks the entryway into Chinatown.

We split into 3 groups for shopping. The first store had knickknacks, books (particularly one on Chinese medicine, which I would like to explore again), dishes, some Bruce Lee Kung-Fu statues in various stages of combat, and beautiful CHOPSTICKS (which I bought). The second store was a Hello Kitty store – need I say more?

The last was a grocery – boxes of fruit lined up outside and large vinyl refrigerator flaps covering the entryway. I followed V and her friends inside where she snatched up a bag of these candies she’s always swiping from the nail salon. I wandered around, the funky “off” smell burning a hole in my sinuses, looking at the meat cases filled with normal everyday things and then some obscenely long pig legs with hooves still intact. I snapped some pictures of the fish display in the back, which was quite impressive, and no – I am not embarrassed. Someone said the fish area was disturbing but I still don’t know why, unless she was referring to the football-sized bloody fish head, its eyes facing the back wall. I wandered downstairs and bought chili sauce, sesame chili oil, and seaweed wraps.

Afterward, we walked around the block to a very small Asian bakery where we entered in waves. It was hotter than a South Street pizza shop in there, so I bought a butter cream bun and hightailed it back outside. V and friends bought Bubble Tea that resembled a pink smoothie with little black balls floating in the bottom that you’d suck up through the straw. They were oddly, simultaneously slimy and spongy and I was afraid to ask but I did. They’re tapioca balls.

Next stop – the Chinese restaurant that was booked for lunch. I googled this place the night before just to see what it looked like, what the menu was like, etc. and the first thing to come up was a series of Yelp reviews, which everyone knows is just a bitch-board because everyone’s a food critic. HOWEVER. One review pointed out the very real news that this restaurant was responsible for the largest food poisoning incident in recent Philadelphia history. Over 100 people in one day, in 2015. I googled the article and found more – as recent as last summer – meat stored at temps above 50 degrees and black mildew inside an ice machine, just two of TWENTY health code violations in a single visit. Who’s hungry now?

So we sit down. All I can think of is – what is the safest thing to eat that is least likely to lead to explosive diarrhea and vomiting? And – I’ll have water – NO ICE – thank you.

Anyway. The dishes were served family style – pork fried rice, lo mein, some sort of red meat on a stick (that V said was raw in the middle – I didn’t eat it), sweet and sour chicken, General Tso chicken with broccoli, orange wedges and fortune cookies. The two chicken dishes were good. Everything else? Nothing to blog about. Even my fortune – he who is shipwrecked the second time cannot lay blame on Neptune – what the heck am I supposed to take away from this? I’m safe to eat here this time, but don’t come back? Or perhaps a deeper message about watching for my ex’s other shoe?

I will say this – that peculiar smell from the grocery store followed me around the block and into the restaurant. It was also in the underground grocery we went to after lunch. In retrospect, although it isn’t a smell you want to encounter in a food establishment, it is a smell often encountered in city back streets that smell like wet garbage and rotting food.

The underground grocery is quite well-known but could easily be missed because it’s through a set of dirty glass doors and down a flight of gray concrete steps with fluorescent lighting reminiscent of old subway stairwells. There are live crabs and jellyfish, and FROGS in a Rubbermaid tote (presumably where last year’s student bought the live frog), and purple (black) packaged chickens that drew everyone’s attention. (They are Silkies, according to my birding friend Dave.) The kids bought a shit-ton of candy and I bought a 5lb bag of sushi rice.

In all, we had beautiful weather and no one got sick. I watched the folks who live and work in Chinatown, the tourists popping in and out of the stores, the men seated in the back of the bakery, looking like Asian Goodfellas and speaking in the hushed tones of their native language, and the boys in Veruca’s class all wearing those ridiculous Chinese straw hats (that screamed, tourist!) looking like they were headed to the rice fields. The boys – all of 13 or 14 years old and varying degrees of tall and short – the tallest boy seated at our table muttering about propaganda on the television and the shortest boy giggling like a chimpanzee.

*****

***Trigger Warning: The following is NOT kosher but (I think) hilariously funny, and may also be offensive to those without a sense of humor.

Friday night was Seder. Todd and I drove down to Baltimore to his parents’ house. Just a couple of their friends, Aunt Marilyn and cousin, Michael. We went through the motions like a drive-thru version of Passover, and got to the eating. Someone started talking about pigs feet and Michael said the hind legs aren’t kosher. But the front legs are, because they’re split-hooved.

I leaned over and said to Todd, I bet all the pigs in Israel only have back legs. Father-in-law’s shoulders started shaking, and then Michael said, they have to put them in those little carts so they can get around. Which in turn made me burst into red-faced laughter. But he wasn’t done. Because he said, but then they’d get stuck in the mud… so they have to put them in all-terrain vehicles, and I had an instant picture of those big all-terrain tires they put on monster trucks, which is where Michael was going and now there are tears running out of my eyes. Aunt Marilyn and I are falling into each other and the whole thing was monstrously inappropriate but we’re a fun family and if you’re offended you don’t have to join us for dinner next time. Oh – and YES – I KNOW that Orthodox Jews don’t eat pork.

 

The New Adventures of Dean and Mrs

Early in the semester we were invited to a private viewing of a documentary produced and directed by one of Todd’s faculty members about pirate radio in Britain in the 1960s. Briefly, these were unlicensed radio “stations” broadcasting from ships anchored in international waters; however “legal” the broadcast from outside the territorial limits, it was considered illegal to listen to these “unauthorized” broadcasts. There is so much more to the history that I won’t go into, mostly because I have a terrible memory and don’t want to do Wayne a disservice for his beautifully done documentary.

The event was hosted by a couple well known to the college at The Vineyard in Havre de Grace, a lovely little two-room wine bar with a delightful array of tapas, flatbreads, and charcuterie. Todd and I were among a group of maybe 15, including the president and vice president of the college and a handful of other (I perceived) important people.

We met our hosts outside as we arrived; she is a French ex-pat who had just received her US citizenship mere days before and he a retired man of politics who in casual conversation shared a memory of his time in Reagan’s White House. My jaw almost dropped before I remembered to pretend I met people like this all the time. She was a beautiful, petite woman with an open face and a smile that lit up a room, and we discovered we had the restaurant blood in common as she used to own a restaurant in France for about ten years. It was a bit more difficult to find things in common with a man who served in Reagan’s White House, but I was enthralled by his stories. He was unpretentious and kind.

Next up: Todd decided he wanted to have a “casual” faculty meeting. At our home. I repeat, AT. OUR. HOME. I tried to talk him out of it. I tried to encourage him to have it in a neutral location. I suggested it was “too soon” to have his faculty to his home, as many of them were still getting to know him. What better reason to do it then? was his response.

My subtle suggestions went over his head. He will himself admit to being oblivious and I – the wife – can attest to that on a much more intimate level. But we’re not talking about that right now. In any case, one day I noticed that he had posted the date and time on our refrigerator, and it was clearly a done deal. He wanted me to take off from work that day. I took a half day and spent the two days before cleaning the house like Cinderella before the ball, scrutinizing every corner of the house.

It’s funny, the things you’re willing to overlook in your daily life when no one is coming over. And then a party is planned and suddenly the gray cobwebs in the cathedral ceiling that have been here since we moved in are looming large, and you see every chip in the paint, ruminate over the downstairs bathroom that has needed a renovation since time began, and rethink every décor decision you’ve ever made. I was stressed.

BUT. They came, they introduced themselves (I’d only met Wayne and an English professor I’d introduced myself to at Wayne’s event), brought wine, and graciously thanked me for opening up MY “beautiful” home to them. It wasn’t a particularly large turnout, but the folks that came were quite comfortable sitting around my kitchen island and outside on the deck, which was swarming with honey bees like we’ve never seen before. For the first time in a long time I fell back into my old shy habits, standing back and taking in their conversations from an outsider view. I was in my own home so I wasn’t uncomfortable, but I just found myself slipping into caterer mode, watching and working silently around them.

Todd’s assistant introduced herself and I said, “I’m so sorry,” and she laughed out loud, asking me if I wanted to kill him for having this event here and I laughed with her. She brought me a bottle of rose, since Todd had told her I’d become recently very fond of them. I sat outside with the group batting away bees, listening to them and realizing with surprise that some of them didn’t even know if the others had children. All told, Todd’s intent was a success.

About a week after my accident, we were invited to the President’s Circle Dinner at a nearby county club. This dinner was for all the donors to the college, and Todd was invited to be one of the speakers – presumably because he is the inaugural dean of a newly re-formed division and, as I teased him, I think the president wanted to show him off.

We arrived in a downpour and were greeted at the entry with name tags to put on and advised that seating was open. Translation: sit anywhere you want. Former shy girl doesn’t do well with this arrangement, and I was eager to find a table before everyone else sat down. We met a lovely couple at the table we chose, had lively conversation, and exchanged business cards by dinner’s end.

This was, believe it or not, the first time I’ve seen Todd speak to a large crowd. At the risk of sounding all gushy, he amazes me. He’s so good at public speaking. I was so proud, and he was not just a little bit humble when he returned to the table and asked me if it sounded okay. This is the same boy I fell in love with – the one with the earring and the leather motorcycle jacket – the quiet artist with the simmering temper, the longhaired motorhead who fixed his own cars and drove fast, and loved me intensely. And that night he stood before a crowd of 100 donors in his suit and tie and spoke like a college dean. I’m sure no one in high school would have ever predicted this outcome.

As for me, these new experiences bring my life to light, as the people we meet on these occasions are politely interested in what I do. I’ve spent more than half my life in the restaurant business desperately trying to escape. I tell them I grew up in the business and, while I don’t tell them I know I’m good at it, I say I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s time-consuming and steals precious time away from loved ones.

I’ve recognized and without shame can say that I don’t have any aspirations of some grand career – I never have, really – and it took me until the last year or so to acknowledge it without feeling like it’s wrong. I was a stay-at-home mom for a very long time. I enjoyed that. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything, and the restaurant gave me the freedom to continue that after the divorce. But today I work a day job, which I love. I get to interact with people, love the people I work with, and leave the job where it belongs – in the office.

I also tell them I’m practicing a bit of old-fashioned wifery – I am here to support my husband’s new direction and look forward to the down time we get to spend together. I even have the fancy apron.